First Aid 101: A Beginner's Guide to Emergency Care
Accidents can happen anywhere and anytime, whether or not you're prepared for them. Because of this, it's essential that you know basic emergency first aid so you can effectively handle the situation until professional help arrives. While you may simply want to rely on emergency services, depending on your location, traffic, and other various factors, it can be over an hour until help can reach you. Take into account that a person can bleed out in mere minutes, and you'll realize how critical it is to know first aid.
Many people mistakenly believe that the first thing you should do in an emergency medical situation is to administer first aid. Before you start performing first aid, there are a few things you need to do in order to ensure both the victim's and your safety.
Assess the Situation
This refers to the patient's location and surroundings. Where did the person get hurt? Are they lying in the middle of the road or inside a building that may collapse? If you treat the victim in their current location, will it be putting you or the victim at risk? Long story short, safety is the priority for both of you, and you need to protect yourself. You can't help anyone if you get injured as well, so if necessary, relocate the patient.
When a traumatic incident occurs, it can be incredibly easy to panic, lose your focus, and forget all of your first aid knowledge. So, you need to keep calm as much as possible so that you can ensure the situation doesn't take a turn for the worst. One thing you can do to keep yourself from freaking out is to breathe. Take a moment to collect yourself, take a deep breath, and get to work.
Another thing to think about is that the patient will often play off of your reaction. If you freak out, they're going to jump to worst-case scenarios and be even more stressed than they already are. So, by keeping calm, you'll also help them feel more at ease.
Comfort the Patient
If you tend to panic under stress, just imagine how freaked out the victim is. On top of that, if you suddenly start touching them without explaining what's going on, they may try to get away from you and make matters worse for both of you. Instead, calmly introduce yourself and inform them that you're going to be providing first aid. Explain what you're doing and what's going on, tell them that they're going to be alright, warn them if something you're doing will hurt, talk about random topics, and ask them questions to help distract them and gauge their alertness.
The reason you should keep up a steady stream of conversation is because if you don't talk to them, you can increase their stress. Imagine that you just got hurt. You know it's bad, but you don't know how bad it is. All of a sudden, there are people looming over you and touching your wound. You're in pain, you don't know what's going on or how bad it is, no one's explaining what happened or what they're doing, you don't know if you're dying, and you're terrified. Having someone willing to help as well as explain what's going on is an incredible blessing many people overlook.
While you’re talking to your patient, avoid mentioning the severity of the wound or if you think they’ll survive or not. If you do so, you’ll only make the patient panic and increase their heart rate. If their heart rate goes up, they could bleed out faster. Instead, continuously reassure the patient that they're going to be okay. By doing so, you can lower their heart rate and provide just a little bit of peace of mind.
Call for Help
This should be obvious. If there's an emergency, call 911 or whatever the local emergency number is. Even better, if there's a crowd, task one of them with calling for help so you can focus on treating the injured. The sooner you call for help, the sooner the victim can be transported to the hospital and receive professional help.
This might seem trivial when someone is potentially dying, but wearing gloves is as much for the patient's protection as yours. Touching an injury with dirty hands may cause a potentially life-threatening infection for the victim down the road. Additionally, if the victim's bodily fluids, such as blood, enter your body, you can become infected with any diseases the victim might have. So, keep everyone safe by gloving up!
Providing First Aid
When it comes to administering emergency first aid, it's important to know what injuries are regarded as an emergency and how to address them.
If someone is unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing, you'll need to perform CPR. For those who aren't CPR certified, you shouldn't perform mouth-to-mouth. Instead, you will stick to chest compressions. For adults, interlock the palm of one hand over the back of the other and place them at the center of the patient's chest between their nipples. Compressions should be done at a rate of 100 to 120 per minute and pressed into the chest about two inches deep. Make sure you allow the chest to fully recoil between each compression.
For those who are trained in CPR, give two rescue breaths between every 30 compressions. However, it is highly recommended that you use a CPR Shield if you intend to provide rescue breaths to prevent the possible transmission of diseases.
While a small cut or scrape doesn't qualify as an emergency, deep lacerations and severe blood loss definitely do. For heavy bleeding on the limbs, apply a tourniquet high and tight on the limb (don't worry, the patient won't need the limb amputated because you used a tourniquet). If the injury is in the groin or armpits, you'll need to pack the wound using regular or hemostatic gauze and place an emergency pressure bandage over the gauze.
Take note that if the patient has lost a lot of blood, their body will lose the ability to thermoregulate. Because of this, as soon as you've stopped the bleeding, you need to focus on keeping the victim warm. Space blankets are incredibly helpful for this task since they reflect a large amount of your body heat back to you. Just wrap them up like a burrito, and you're good to go. If you don't have a space blanket, use anything and everything you have on hand. Blankets, extra clothing, hats, gloves, tablecloths, and everything else you can think of will help.
For a more in-depth explanation on addressing extreme blood loss, read our Save a Life recap!
In the case of severe or extensive burns, ensure that they aren't at risk of getting burned further. Remove all restrictive jewelry, belts, and clothing as burns can swell quickly. If some of the clothing sticks to the skin, cut around it. Do not try and remove it! Protect the burned areas by covering them with loose and sterile gauze, nonstick bandages, or similar material like a sheet. If applicable, separate toes and fingers with more of the dressing. Do not apply ice, especially directly, as it can make matters worse.
Prevent the victim from going into shock by laying them flat on the ground, elevating their feet, and covering them with a blanket. An exception to this is if the patient has facial burns. In this case, have them sit up.
If you have a broken bone, you probably aren't having a great day. However, different types of breaks have different levels of severity. For example, a fracture or clean break should be immobilized with a splint before heading to the hospital. However, an open or compound fracture refers to a piece of bone breaking through the skin.
In this case, you'll first want to stop the bleeding and cover the wound to prevent infection. Immobilize the area as much as possible, and try to prevent the injured person from using nearby joints as well. For example, if you have a compound fracture in your foot, avoid using your ankle.
For all types of broken bones, pain medicine can be used to help manage the pain, and ice can be applied to reduce any swelling.
This is my own personal nightmare fuel, but it's okay! Depending on the severity of the injury, this is survivable! If the impaled object is still present in the body, don't remove it under any circumstances and try not to jostle or dislodge it. Pack gauze around the object to stop any bleeding and help immobilize the item and get professional help quickly.
If the item dislodged and the injury is on a limb, refer to the Bleeding section.
When the victim has been impaled somewhere along the torso and the object was removed, treatment is slightly different compared to general bleeding. For a puncture wound in this area, you'll wipe the wound and the surrounding area followed by placing a vented chest seal over the injury. This will keep air from entering the wound, which is a critical step. This is because when air enters the chest cavity, it can collapse your lungs and put dangerous pressure on your heart that can send you into cardiac arrest. While the vented chest seals will keep air from entering your chest while also allowing air to escape, the patient will still need a hospital relatively quickly because there may be internal bleeding that you can't reach.
A severe head injury can be deadly, and most, if not all, head injuries should be checked by a professional in case the patient has a brain bleed. If the injury occurs from a forceful blow or high impact (such as a long fall or car accident) or the person received a head injury and has had a history of brain surgery, uncontrolled bleeding, blood clotting disorders, are taking medication that may cause bleeding problems, or has consumed alcohol or drugs, they should immediately be taken to the hospital even if they say they feel fine.
Symptoms of a severe head injury that needs prompt medical attention include loss of consciousness, seizures, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, hearing loss or double vision, blood or fluid coming from the ears or nose, amnesia, problems with coordination, and vomiting.
Head injuries also bleed a lot, so don't panic and simply stop the bleeding using a hemostatic dressing or gauze if possible.
Sudden Loss of Consciousness
If a person suddenly collapses and loses consciousness, especially if there aren't any outside influences, such as donating blood, this can be a sign that something's wrong. Whether it be a medical condition, insufficient blood flow, or brain trauma can be difficult to tell without professional medical equipment and knowledge. When this happens, check the victim's breathing and pulse. If necessary, perform CPR (see Breathing). For patients that are breathing, have a steady pulse, and you don't suspect a spinal injury, roll them onto their side into the recovery position.
To put a victim in the recovery position, you first need to remove their glasses and any bulky items in their pockets. Move the arm closest to you to a right angle with the palm facing upward. Take their other arm and bring it across their chest until the back of the hand is against their cheek. Hold the hand in place while you use your other hand to pull the far knee up until their foot is flat on the floor. Pull the far leg toward you to roll the patient on their side. Adjust the top leg so it's bent at a 90-degree angle. Tilt the patient's head back and lift the chin so the airway stays open.
What Basic Emergency Equipment Should You Keep on Hand?
With many of these injuries, it's difficult to treat them properly without some basic supplies on hand. Listed below is the gear you should keep nearby at all times. If you want something more flushed out, learn how to build a comprehensive first aid kit.
- Chest Seals
- Emergency Pressure Bandage
- Hemostatic Gauze
- Regular Gauze
- Space Blanket
Medical emergencies can be petrifying, but knowing how to approach the situation and keeping the necessary medical supplies on hand will significantly increase the victim's condition and comfort. If you don't already have the necessary emergency supplies, pick up a first aid kit containing these items today!